One of the difficulties most of us face is having too much to do and not enough time to do it, so we end up feeling overwhelmed and stressed out. We beat ourselves up and, in the process, undermine our confidence and self-esteem.
When confronted with this situation, the tendency is often to look for ways of increasing our productivity. We learn to plan ahead, schedule our time more effectively and adopt techniques for overcoming procrastination. We may even invest in planners and personal organizers to help with this process, but somehow still end up feeling overwhelmed.
All of these tools and techniques are vital for helping us get organized and make better use of our time, but they’re not enough, because there comes a point when no matter how efficiently we use our time, we simply can’t cram in any more tasks and activities. Time is finite. There are only 24 hours in the day.
So we have to find another way.
And the answer lies in doing less rather than more.
Less is More
It’s important to realize that, with the best will in the world, you simply can’t get everything done, no matter how hard you try. And even if you make really effective use of your time, as you complete one thing, it leads on to another, and another. And so it goes on. That’s the nature of life.
The key to de-cluttering your life and getting more done is to look carefully at how you spend your time and stop doing the things that don’t matter.
Keep a Time Log
Start by keeping a time log to establish how you really spend your time rather than how you think you spend your time.
You need to record all that you do from the moment you get up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night, including the activity you’re engaged in, the time you start and finish, and how satisfied you feel with the activity.
You’ll need to do this for about a week, because keeping a record for just a couple of days might not be typical. Also, you’ll need to record everything as you go, because if you try and complete the log at the end of the day, your memory will probably play tricks with you. Most of us under-estimate how long it takes us to do various tasks, and we often forget about distractions and interruptions.
At the end of the week, summarize your raw data into meaningful categories for you, e.g. family time, looking after yourself (eating, exercise), productive work time, socializing, hobbies, interruptions and distractions. Then record the amount of time spent on each category per day, its importance in your life (high, medium, low) and how satisfied you feel with the category.
Even a quick glance will reveal how much – or how little – time you spend on important compared with unimportant activities, as well as your level of satisfaction with each. If you’re like most people, you will probably be shocked to find just how much of your day is spent on unimportant and unsatisfying activities.
This whole process may sound a bit tedious – sorry, it is – but when you come to analyze the results it can be very revealing.
Focus on What’s Important
The first step is to take full responsibility for how you spend your time, which – if this applies to you – includes no longer complaining about the fact that you’ve got too much to do or blaming other people for the situation. Instead, it means sorting out your priorities and then taking steps to focus on the things that really matter to you.
Handling Interruptions and Distractions
One of the quickest ways of freeing up time is to become more disciplined about how you handle interruptions and distractions in life.
Manage interruptions by setting aside a block of time each day for answering emails, returning phone calls and getting back to drop-by visitors. Resist the temptation to respond to every interruption immediately.
If people are making unreasonable demands on your time, then learn to say ‘no’. By all means help them, whether at home, work or amongst your circle of friends, but set limits.
And if you have a demanding boss who always wants to give you just one more task when you’re already overloaded, say ‘in order to do this, which of my other tasks do you want me not to do’?
Television, social media and email can also eat up vast amounts of time, so ask yourself whether it’s really necessary to spend hours engaged in these activities. Are they really important in terms of helping you achieve all you want in life?
What Really Matters
Getting the interruptions and distractions under control will free up some of your time, but that’s only part of the answer.
It’s likely that when you analyze your time log, there will be at least several things you regard as important, but you simply don’t have enough hours in the day to devote to them all. So, at this point, you’ll need to make some tough choices in order to identify the most important.
And if you’re tempted to say ‘they’re all important’ just realize that you can’t carry on with an overloaded schedule indefinitely. Eventually, your productivity, health, wellbeing and sense of fulfillment will suffer.
So, be discerning and identify the things that really matter and commit to concentrating on them.
This may mean having to pull out of certain commitments, in which case, so be it. If you’re hesitant about doing this, because you’re worried about letting people down or what they may think; you can always give them notice and explain why.
De-Clutter Your Life
If you really want to de-clutter your life and master your schedule, the ultimate solution is not about cramming more in or becoming more efficient, because there’s a limit to how many productivity improvements you can make. The solution is to focus on what’s really important to you; the things that line up with your values and all you want to achieve in life.
It’s all about doing fewer things, not more, and in the process, doing them well, so that you increase your sense of satisfaction and peace of mind.
That’s when you de-clutter your life and start to have control over your time.